Some morning thoughts. Spoilers.
It’s about a guy who lost a mother who may… as diagnosed by Laura, have been his best friend, but may also have simultaneously been a predator, someone who kept him all to herself (and thus like “WizardKnight’s” Able, someone who delayed his further development?). The narrative works to help him save face, as he couldn’t bear to face real truths. So he obviously was in the sanitorium for desiring a sex change into a woman, for this would be a way to incorporate the lost mother back into him, just like for Severian, incorporating Thecla was his way to incorporate his lost mother inside him. But since this would fragment his slim sense of self-esteem, make him feel less a man, less structured, the narrative allows him the face-saving reality that, no, he was there for alcoholism. IT REALLY IS HIM that seeks a missing masculinity, however — and this fact is really made near overt in how he has the old European, the man’s man, Klamm, admire how he punches North straight in the nose — but this is posited into North when he lusts after the boxer Joe, who’s “strong as a couple bulls,” a surprising development when it happens in the text because North otherwise had been portrayed as a kind of emblem of terrorizing masculinity who by himself could disrupt the alternative world’s otherwise assured matriarchal society: he’s this text’s bullysome, Stanley Kowalski, the, himself, already-a-bull. (The overt anger he feels towards his mother is mostly displaced onto North as well. Not entirely, however, for he allows himself some when he sums up his impression of the old woman whose textual role is to refuse him.) There’s a sense that to get Laura back to him, he’s going to have to get her from her current partner, Klamm, who pretends she’s his daughter. There’s a sense here that Green’s nearest double in Wolfe’s fiction surfaces near the end of his career, with “Borrowed Man’s” Ern, who has the same sort of relationship with that novel’s overt exemplum of female-power-disrupting masculinity, Dr. Fevre, as he begs one his daughters-that-are-there-for-sex off of him. (Mind you, though in this case he doesn’t beg for it, “Peace’s” Weer does collect sex off of another man’s teenage daughter as well. Maybe his main protagonists hope that through sex with the girls they’re also acquiring some closer proximity to the particular Father who lent them to him? Maybe it’s not only about the girls themselves, but about gaining some of he-men they carry in them, via sexual or biological ties?)
Laura shames him at the end. Informs him that to her, he’s just a cute dog… one of a number she might admire briefly but then lose interest in. This doesn’t work to repulse, but rather gets him excited, gets him even more desiring of her (there’s a lot of this in Wolfe, no? Women who inform their mates that they’ll use them and dump them, with the hero becoming excited by the prospect? It’s Able’s relationship to Disiri as well, however this gets corrected in the end when Able finally learns to reverse the power-dynamic between them and learns to call her.). I think there’s a sense that rather than critique him here for having no sense of self-respect, that what we should do is note that he’s doing the right thing. He seems in need to finally force something upon her, rather than be the one who is used. This…. this registering, this better-focusing, would amount to a recognition that he wasn’t just the sad puppy she had taken him for. And he gets this. He forces a change in mind in her, he earns it, and this is a recognition from her of his genuine masculinity. For the first time she makes him feel a man, someone a woman might seek out for his own masculinity.
Of all the three lovers we hear of of Laura, Green has the least traditionally manly of occupations. Klamm I think is a president’s advisor, the other is a captain of a ship, and Green works as a department store clerk selling furniture to old women. Green’s battle with the old woman to reclaim a desk he sold to her feels a bit like he’s engaging a more serious battle as well. He calls her a bitch I think at one point, but he does make as strong a case he can to get the desk from her. She won’t do it at first. Emphatically, no way… but he nevertheless does have some impact on her, and she eventually changes her mind and gives it to him. There’s a sense, if you will, of Peace in this book, compromise, a working solution, between parties ostensibly widely apart, not just the war of realms between North’s “American” “masculinity” vs. the alternative realm’s goddessian matriarchy.
The teenage doll of Laura he keeps by his side puts this protagonist into the company of many of other of Wolfe’s main heroes who keeps some teenage lady doll by him. Most times we won’t notice they amount to the same, but it’s what’s going on in “Latro” and in “Sorcerer’s House” (with Winkel, the fox)… and possibly in “Land Across,” with the hand he keeps in his pocket (and possibly in “New Sun,” with Dorcas being a revived doll, according to Agia, and Baldander’s being tended to by a living doll). I found some sympathy for his keeping her by him, this talking girl-doll. It’s so overtly sad… like “Free, Live Free’s” clown who sleeps in a coffin is, or even perhaps how “New Sun’s” Hethor is, with his sleeping with a doll, is, or how “Soldier of Sidon’s” magician who keeps a doll is. I think because it shows some ability to actually admit to what other’s would call a perversity, a need for a steadying fetish, even if ridiculed for it. (If anyone ever argues there’s a million miles of distance between some of Wolfe’s overt villain “weirdoes,” like the transexual Eurkyles, who exults in his new female body, and his heroes, don’t believe. Usually they exist in the text to “take on” what the hero himself feels inclined towards but can’t admit owing to shame. In Latro’s case, he doesn’t need as much the sexual transformation to reclaim his mother because the text keeps fostering the Mother back onto him; he isn’t as lonely for her.)
So he’s normal for me in that… because he’s a clerk (rather than, say, “home fires’s” Skip who’s a great lawyer, or “Land Across’s” Grafton who’s a notable, successful travel writer, or “Borrowed Man’s” Ern who was a successful mystery writer) who sells stuff to old ladies, because he, rather than North, is so obviously the one who desires masculinity from other Real Men (and, with his viscously attacking the old woman by calling her a bitch, is really the one who has a score to settle with women), because, rather than hide this from us, has the woman he says he loves admit she chose him because his best friend was his mother, that is, because he was a vulnerable mother’s boy, he’s one of the least armoured of Wolfe’s heroes. Other protagonists in Wolfe may carry some of the same attributes, but they arrive in text better armoured — for example Silk fears he’s a milksot, a mamma’s boy, too, but he’s described as someone who was so broad-shouldered Remora imagined that this tough neighbourhood he was dispatched to would have, in him, met their match, and Blood… the very formidable man from the streets, pulls back from him upon first meet because he sensed he was considerable trouble.
He’s not, to refer to Stephen Saperstein Frug’s complaint about “WizardKnight’s” Able, a Mary Sue.
I wont’ talk here about Green’s Redface episode, but it is there in the text.